The easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves. – Socrates
We are all creatures of habit. It allows us to function effectively without expending lots of energy. We can go through large portions of our day on autopilot. This frees up our mind to focus on more complex tasks.
The downside of having the ability to do things on autopilot is that it can also keep us doing things that actually hurt us. It can keep us in a romantic relationship that is comfortable, but not going anywhere. It can prevent us from losing weight or even put us on the road to continuous, gradual weight gain. In other words, doing things on autopilot can put us into a rut.
What are some ruts that you might find yourself in?
- A romantic relationship that is not going anywhere.
- Chemical dependence.
- Waking up late.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Spending too much time playing games or other time-killing activities.
Once you are in a rut, it is easy to continue in the rut, but it takes an enormous amount of energy to get out of the rut. There are some people who waste their entire lives in a rut. They never achieve escape velocity.
And there is more bad news. If you are not constantly vigilant, it is easy to fall back into the same old habits.
So how do you get out of a rut? Here are some things that have helped me break out of ruts in the past.
Step 1 – Write down what you want to change
This step calls for honesty. You have to really want to change something in order to actually make the change.
For example, I drink two large cups of coffee each day. I don’t like the fact that I have this habit, but I really don’t want to give it up either. I like the taste of coffee, it helps me to focus on work, and I don’t notice any big negative side effects. It would be stupid of me to list this as something that I want to change, because I really don’t.
Write down all the things you have a burning desire to change. If you are like me, there is more than one thing that you want to improve. You won’t be able to tackle them all at once. In general, you will pick one, get out of that rut, and then move on to the next item.
In certain cases, you will be able to do more than one item at a time. I will cover that below.
You should always be working on improving one aspect of your life. This is the work of a lifetime.
I like to use a hardcover journal for this purpose. I carry this journal with me at all times. It contains my master to-do list, my daily to-do lists, ideas, and things in my life that I want to improve. Carrying a journal will keep you focused on your mission.
Step 2 – Pick an item (or two) from your list and get to work
This is the hard part. Inertia is incredibly strong. There are a few of things you can do to make it easier.
Use changes to your schedule to your advantage.
Are you going on a business trip or a vacation? Use the change in schedule to help disrupt your current pattern.
I recently picked up a couple of bad habits. While I was training hard, I started to have a protein shake every night before bed. At the time, it made sense. I was lifting heavily four days per week and running three days per week. I needed the extra protein to recover.
Then work became very hectic. I had to drastically reduce my weight training. I started to run less. But the nightly protein shake stayed.
I also started to eat snacks in between meals. And sit for extended periods before the computer. The results were predictable. My weight started to creep up.
I used my vacation as leverage to get out of the rut. We were staying at the beach so I made it a priority to exercise every morning. Nothing fancy. Just pushups, sit-ups, and squats. I followed the bodyweight exercises up with a run on the beach.
Getting rid of snacking was also easier on vacation. Typically, you are not around a vending machine and even if you get a little hungry, you are too busy to notice.
Doing these things on vacation broke the rut. When I got back from vacation, it was easy to continue to stick to habits that I had started on vacation.
You can do the same thing on a business trip. The longer the disruption of your normal schedule continues, the better for getting out of a rut.
Use competitions and life events as motivation
Men are naturally competitive. Our society tries to put limits on our competitiveness. They try to get rid of grades. They hand out identical trophies to both the winners and losers of a soccer game. But the kids know the score.
Use your natural competitiveness as a goad to get out of ruts. Schedule yourself for a 10K race or a half marathon. Your desire to excel in the race will crush any ruts that stand in the way of your success.
You can use life events for the same purpose. Are you getting married soon? Having a baby? You can use these events as leverage to get rid of bad habits.
My wife and I are expecting another baby at the end of this year. I know that dealing with an infant can be exhausting so I am training for it. I am improving my physical condition and getting more disciplined about my sleep habits in preparation for the baby’s arrival.
Get a partner and motivate each other
There is research that proves that people who have to be accountable to someone else are more successful in achieving their goals than people who try to go it alone.
My guess is that this works because we are so ashamed of not making progress that we force ourselves to do it. If shame goads us to improve, then it is a good thing.
Find someone who also wants to get out of a rut—it doesn’t have to be the same one—and report your progress to each other on a weekly basis.
Of course, you don’t have to use one of these methods of getting leverage. You can simply pick the rut you want to get out of, and get to work.
There is no trick here except to make a decision and execute. Some of my “rut busting” has been done using the “rough it” method.
A couple of considerations
Whichever method you chose, never relent once your start. If you’ve gotten into the habit of having two glasses of wine per night and you resolve to only have one, never, never, never give in “just this once.” When you give in, you lose ground and you weaken your will—the exact opposite of what you want to achieve.
The second consideration is to have a sense of urgency. Get started immediately. Once you have overcome one rut, move to the next one. A lot is contingent upon our character so we need to be busy working on it.
Excellent article. It’s shocking how easily we can find ourselves in a rut (or several) and not even know it; it’s almost like we ‘awaken’ to find ourselves in these situations. I recently made a major ‘get out of a rut’ decision by changing jobs. I went from safe yet predictable to unknown and challenging and am really glad I had the guts to break out of this work rut. Although this is a bit more than what you’re writing about, I think ruts can come in all sizes; mine was particularly large but they don’t need to be for you to get stuck in.